May 23, 2014

UPDATE: ARMC CEO James Thaw Forced Out by Doctors' Coup

Athens Regional Medical Center CEO James Thaw was forced out Thursday after doctors complained that a new computer system Thaw installed was hurting patients' care, according to several sources.


The ARMC and Athens Regional Health System Board of Trustees accepted Thaw's resignation following a stormy meeting of hospital medical personnel Tuesday night that one participant described as "200 doctors of all political persuasions solid in their vote of no confidence in the present hospital administration." The vote was 270–0, according to another source.

The precipitating factor, among others, was a recently installed medical information system that has caused severe problems in the delivery of medical services at the hospital, sources said.

According to local health care professionals, the system, Cerner Millenium, has led to medication errors, orders being lost or overlooked, emergency room patients leaving after long waits and one patient who stayed at the hospital for five days without ever seeing a doctor.

Sources said that Thaw placed incompetent people in key positions, which led to the electronic medical record snafu. "It is like the Hunger Games," one health care professional said of the infighting among the staff. As a result, a number of doctors associated with ARMC recently have left for St. Mary's, including award-winning physician Farris Johnson.

Two sources specifically fingered Gretchen Tegethoff, the chief information officer, as responsible for the Cerner fiasco.

 "We don't comment or speculate on personnel matters," Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President James Moore said when asked whether any other administrators are losing their jobs.

The Athens Banner-Herald published a story this morning quoting an email from Thaw stating that "…[W]e took swift action and significant progress has been made toward resolving the issues raised" with the system. By that time, however, Thaw was already gone.

Thaw was hired as ARMC CEO in July 2011, replacing Jack Drew, who retired. Previously, the University of South Carolina graduate was CEO at a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Moore, a 29-year-hospital veteran, has taken the reins for the time being, according to ARMC spokeswoman Elaine Cook.

"We greatly appreciate all Jamey and his wife, Rebecca, have done for this community over the last three years," board of trustees chairwoman Marilyn Farmer said in a memo to hospital staff. "They have embraced Athens in many ways. Jamey has led this organization during an extraordinary time in healthcare [sic] and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

The board trustees will meet next week to discuss the process of hiring a new CEO, Moore said in an email.

Meanwhile, ARMC is working to fix the electronic records system, Moore said:

"We now have a dedicated team in place focused on implementation, a command center to address issues in real time, and most importantly have added extra staff and physicians to honor our commitment to patient safety. Aside from our focus on our patients, which always takes precedence, getting the Cerner system running smoothly for our staff and physicians  is our top priority."